Leviticus 05 – Learning, Action, and a word on Gender Equality

If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

In the middle of drafting this post I found out Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. It’s a terrible setback for achieving equality in this country. I am grieved and worried by this loss, as I know many of you are. The best way we can honor RBG is to continue to fight for equality on all fronts, something I had been thinking about while writing, but now seems even more salient having lost such a hero and protector of rights.

God’s Grace

God gives us so much grace. In essence, this chapter is a giant “I know you are going to make mistakes, but here are all the way you can make good when you realize you made one.” Notice, in particular, verse four and five:

“or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”

“Guilt” is not accrued when the offending action is taken. Guilt is only accrued when the offending party becomes aware of the offending action. God meets us where we are: asking us to learn first, then act accordingly.

And God knows we have different abilities and capacities. Not everyone is required to bring a lamb as a sin offering, because not everyone can afford it. God gives a sliding scale of atonement. Those who cannot afford a lamb can submit two doves, and those who cannot afford two doves can bring some flour. God again meets us where we are: giving us grace and options before requiring action.

God’s grace is wonderful. But I think, all too often, we rely too much on it. If we are truly living as Christians, it is not enough to admit to our “sin,” and thank God for being so gracious. We need to act, to offer the proverbial sin offering, so to speak. The requirement of this chapter, and truly the model for Christian living, is two-fold: learn, then act. It is not enough to simply learn.

Faithfuls’ Action

Indeed, the opening lines of this chapter focus upon action, calling the faithful to “speak up when they hear a public charge to testify.” Today, we are being called to testify on behalf of our siblings, our country, our very world. As I discussed in my last post, we have become aware of so many unintentional sins. Perhaps you were not aware of just how bad the rate of climate change is. Perhaps you were not aware of structural racism. Perhaps you were not aware of the US (and Canada) violating sovereign land rights of tribes for pipelines and other projects, or of the dire situations in South America that force refugees to our southern border, or of worsening humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, and Afganistan. But now you do know, now we all know, and denial and inaction are now inexcusable.

I know I just gave you a lot of crises – and no one person is going to be able to solve them all, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember, God meets us where we are, and simply asks that we try a little better once we know. Small steps can make a difference. If every American adult donated just $10 more that would be over $2 billion for charities and other causes. If we continue the work-from-home trend started by the pandemic, we could keep literal tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. If even just half of American adults called their representatives once a year that would be one million opinions publicly and officially voiced. If 65% of the voting population turned out (as opposed to the average 55% of the last four presidential elections) we might have very different policies being passed by very different politicians. Again, these are little things, tiny nudges. But they do make a difference.

Focus on Gender Equality in honor of RBG

This week, let’s honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory by remembering the marginalized. RBG was a particular champion of gender equality, so I’m going to focus on that here. I’ll leave you with a list of things that we can all do towards promoting gender equality. Note that none of these require any money, as I want to be sure we all have access to being agents of change:

  • Remember that trans women are women, too. Excluding anyone from discussions (and actions!) about gender equality is counter to the very idea of equality, and definitely not what either RBG or Jesus would do.
  • Men – share more in household chores! I challenge you to do one more thing than you usually do. And to anyone partnered to a man, ask them to do something! Oftentimes they are willing, but they just don’t even know what they don’t know.
  • Think like a mom. The next time you go out to do errands or go to work, I challenge everyone to think about what it would be like to have small children in tow. Is there reserved parking for new and expectant mothers? Are there changing stations in the bathrooms? Are the sidewalks in good repair? This last one makes a huge difference not only to mothers with strollers but also to anyone with mobility challenges. Just another example of how inclusivity works to the benefit of all.
  • Vote for (and hire, and promote) women. Women do not have a proportionate share of power. If we truly want to support the equality of women, we need them in positions of authority where their experience and expertise will help shape policies for future generations. The same goes for just about every minority group.

Fight the good fight, my friends, and let’s be agents of change in God’s name. Now, more than ever, it is important to act upon what we believe in. May God bless and inspire you this week, and I look forward to hearing what you act upon in your lives.

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Ecclesiates 06 – Juneteenth and Christian Humanism

12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Getting reacquainted with Ecclesiastes

Time to circle back to Ecclesiastes, the book I promised I’d finish back in May (ha, ha). I want to return to it though, because I find it to be both comforting and grounding, and we all could use more of that right now. There’s an urgency and a gentleness to Ecclesiastes, and there seems no better time to tie that, Christian Humanism, and Juneteenth all together.

Let’s start by reacquainting ourselves with the book: It is a wisdom text attributed to Solomon. A wisdom text shares wisdom with us (surprise!), and differs from earlier narrative books (like Genesis) and later prophetic books (like Isaiah) in that being its focus. Throughout Ecclesiastes the author is referred to as Qohelet, which generally means teacher (more about author in my post on Chapter One.) It’s a short book, and we’re smack in the middle with chapter six, which is all about setting up a question that is answered by the wisdom poems in the following chapters. Basically the question asked is this: what is the best way for humans to spend their short time on earth?

The short-answer to this question is in chapter eight: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do…Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (vv. 8:7,10) Herein lies the gentleness and urgency: Qohelet wishes us joy and happiness, but also needs us to make the most of our work, whatever it may be.

One of the most disturbing things to Qohelet is the man who cannot enjoy himself, even though God has given him everything he needs for a good life, as discussed in vv. 3-6 of this chapter. Such a person’s lack of happiness could be argued as an affront to God and all Xyr generosity: they have the means, but cannot be satisfied.  (A quick aside: I don’t think this is a condemnation of depression or mental health concerns.  These readings refer to people who have everything at their fingertips, but still have an insatiability and discontentment of their own making.)  Happiness may be our God-given right, and, as Eunny Lee points out in her book The Vitality of Enjoyment in Qohelet’s Theological Rhetoric, it may be our God-given responsibility as well. Indeed, we are ordered in the passage from chapter eight (and elsewhere) to “go and be glad” or some words to that effect.

Christian Humanism: Hope and Immediacy Combined

Which brings me to Christian Humanism, something I’ve discussed before. The more I’m at this Bible reading project, the more I feel “Christian Humanist” is probably the best summation of my beliefs.  I hate falling back on Wikipedia as a source, but I can’t deny their summation is an excellent one: “Christian humanism regards humanist principles like universal human dignity, individual freedom and the importance of happiness as essential and principal components of the teachings of Jesus.” If we are to follow Qohelet’s lead, personal happiness is of the utmost importance to a full Christian life: we are to go and eat our food with gladness, drink our wine with a joyful heart. But personal happiness does not just mean our own personal happiness, it means everyone’s personal happiness. And that is where the working with all our might comes in: we are called to end things that may get in the way of other people’s happiness: racism, sexism, environmental exploitation, economic exploitation-anything that infringes upon the rights and human dignity of another person has got to go.

The Humanist Society of New York states “we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet.”  While different from Christian charity in its origin (and also hopefully free of some of the worst lingering effects of colonialism and racism), both Humanist and Christian charities are trying to make a better world for the people who live in it, here and now.  Humanists do not believe in an afterlife, so this is our one shot, and I kind of like that urgency. I think Qohelet would appreciate it, as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have great hope in the coming resurrection and find much comfort in contemplating Jesus returning to make it all right. But shouldn’t we be doing as much as we can, now?  Maybe my hokey cleaning house analogy will help:  We might not be able to do everything a professional cleaning company can do, like steam the rugs and squeegee the the second-floor windows, but we can do a lot to make things nice before the professionals get there.  Just because we can’t steam the rugs and squeegee the windows doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and say we can’t do anything.  No, we tackle the messes that we can, and it does makes a difference. The return of Jesus may wipe away the tears from every eye, but we need begin ending sorrow, now.

Juneteenth

So what’s all this have to do with Juneteenth? Let’s back up; what the heck is Juneteenth? Juneteenth commemorates the day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, TX – a final strong-hold of white slave-owners (and their slaves) – to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. This happened a full year and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, but that’s the soonest Union Forces had enough power to back up the law. I, personally, think that Juneteenth should take on all the celebratory nature that July 4 currently has; And July 4 should become a day of service and remembrance, when we work to make the ideals espoused by the Founding Fathers come true, while acknowledging the fact that these ideals have never been lived up to by or available to everyone in this country. But that’s just my opinion.

So back to why I want to close out my post talking about happiness and Christian Humanism with a nod to Juneteenth is this: it is a holiday that has a duality to it. Just as Ecclesiastes is both gentle and urgent, just as Christian Humanism is both hopeful and immediate, Juneteenth is both celebratory and bittersweet: we have come so far, yet we still have so far to go. We have work to do, as Qohelet reminds us, as Black Lives Matter reminds us. Oh, yes, do we have some work to do! But we can celebrate at the same time. Let’s celebrate our victories, like marveling at just how many people took to the streets in protest and solidarity in the past weeks, and in last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that expands protection for LGBTQ workers, and, on a much smaller scale but of personal importance to me: how many of you have expressed interest in helping end police discrimination through my nascent lobbying campaign (details on my Instagram). Please don’t get me wrong: there is a time for anger, a time for sadness (as Qohelet so elegantly reminds us in Chapter Three), and I’m not trying to tone-police anyone here. But even this hard work is work we can do joyfully.

I hope your Juneteenth was a celebratory day. And if you missed it, may it be a celebratory day for you next year. We cannot know what will happen under the sun after we are gone. We cannot know what next year or even tomorrow holds for us, but I feel a joy, a conviction, that we are moving in the right direction. Let us all do our work, and be glad.

Ruth 02 – Lessons in Allyship from the Pride Community

19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Boaz in the Ruth Story

Oh hey Pride Month, I still see you over there, behind the global pandemic and long-overdue nationwide anger over racism. Today, we’re going to pay a little attention to you. Let’s draw analogies between the greater LGBTQ+ community and Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer who saved Ruth and Naomi from poverty and lives as outcasts, because both have lessons to teach the rest of us in how to be a good ally.

First to brush up on the story of Ruth: Ruth was not an Israelite, she was a Moabite who married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. Now, not only did Ruth’s husband die, but her brother-in-law and father-in-law died, leaving her, her sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, Naomi, destitute. Naomi decides to return to her ancestral lands to see if she can rely upon her community for kindness in her time of need, and Ruth follows her (we can discuss if Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was romantic or not another time, I promise, but that’s not for today’s post). They arrive in Bethlehem, and Ruth sets about gleaning (gathering what is left behind by the harvesters) so she and Naomi won’t go hungry. She catches the eye of Boaz, who provides her successively with: protection in the field, additional food, a promise of marriage, and the legacy of her deceased husband’s name.

You could make the case for Boaz’s interest in Ruth was a calculated one: there was land at stake in marrying her. Perhaps that early kindness is an effort to woo her, and throwing Ruth and Naomi in the land deal at the last minute may have been an effort to deter the heir apparent, but even so, nothing was guaranteed to Boaz. And I’m sure Boaz appreciated a young, possibly beautiful woman becoming his wife. But more than anything Boaz was doing what was right because it was right to help these two women, not what was right because it meant sleeping with Ruth. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth before she shows any interest in coming under his matrimonial protection, because kindness to these two women was important in and of itself. Uplifting these two women meant uplifting and strengthening the larger community, that he gains personally from it (in the form of land and heirs) is the just and Biblical happy-ending for our hero.

Double Shout Out to Pride

This brings me to my double Pride shout out: for their being awesome allies in the fight against COVID and in the most recent Black Lives Matter movement. Boaz did what was right with no expectation of fanfare but also while calling the community to witness (which he does when he convenes the elders in chapter four), and that is also what the Pride community has done in both its handling of COVID and Black Lives Matter.

There was no anger in the fact that Pride events had to be canceled due to COVID, instead the organizers took active steps in protection: The NYC Pride Parade and associated in-person events were canceled all the way back in April. This is a big deal, y’all: last year saw record attendance at nationwide Pride events, and this year is the 50th anniversary of the first pride march (the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which the 1970 march commemorated, was, of course, last year). Pride organizers and attendees would have every right to be upset that this year’s events have drastically changed. But has a peep of that disappointment made itself public? I haven’t seen any. The Pride community knows that by canceling these events, they are keeping their community, and indeed the larger community, safe and healthy.

Then, when the protests of last month started, the Pride community jumped behind them wholeheartedly: because repression of one group cannot be fully addressed until repression of all groups is recognized. Instead of getting mad that Pride month may be sharing the spotlight this year (no “gay lives matter, too,” though an appropriate #blacktranslivesmatter hashtag has been gaining visibility), LGBTQ+ leaders and individuals have shown an outpouring of sympathy and support. Contrast this with the Michigan COVID protesters angry that they can’t get a haircut, or the tone-deaf individuals insisting “all lives matter,” and it’s pretty clear who has the moral high-ground here.

Being a good ally

I actually hate the word ally, it sounds performative, and it should be redundant: Boaz stood with and for the repressed Naomi and Ruth. Jesus calls us to do the same for the repressed of today. The Pride community has answered that call better than most of us. If we see injustices happening (and no, not being able to get your nails done does not count as an injustice), we, as Christians, are duty-bound to help end those injustices. Boaz gave of both his wealth and his social influence, not to mention the protection of his house and name. So, to all the LGBTQ+ individuals out there holding space for Black Lives Matter, and abiding by safety protocols for COVID quarantines, whether you are Christian or not, I bless you as Naomi blessed Boaz. God sees your heart, and I know Xe is well pleased.

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